10 Early Winners and Losers of Minnesota Vikings Offseason
With the end of the Minnesota Vikings' OTAs, and June's mandatory minicamp coming up, there are still plenty of positional battles to be waged and starters to be named. Yet for some players, their stock is zooming right now, and everything is positive. While others find themselves in a situation that looks a bit bleak.
Here's a look at some of the biggest winners and losers from the Vikings' roster that currently sits at the NFL-maximum of 90 players.
The criteria used to determine if a player is a winner or loser is based on where they are on the team's depth chart compared to what was expected. This could be due to other rosters moves that have helped or hindered their chances, or to untimely injuries or other circumstances.
Loser: Center John Sullivan
Center John Sullivan had microfracture surgery on his left knee in early February, and the real losers here could be the Minnesota Vikings.
The procedure is performed to repair damaged cartilage in the knee. By making small incisions in the knee a clot is formed that helps to regenerate the cartilage. By no means major surgery, but still a surgery nonetheless that requires rehabilitation.
Sullivan has not participated in any of the OTAs and will not be participating in the mandatory minicamp. In a report by Dan Wiederer in the Star Tribune, he says Sullivan should be ready by the time training camp opens.
During the OTAs, Joe Berger and Brandon Fusco have taken turns at center.
According to the starting lineups listed on Pro Football Reference, the Vikings have only returned the same five starting linemen in consecutive seasons three times since 1998. If Sullivan makes it back and Charlie Johnson and Fusco can prevent rookies Jeff Baca and Travis Bond from displacing them, it would be the fourth time.
Winner: Fullback Jerome Felton
Blocking for the best running back in the world certainly has its rewards.
Jerome Felton parlayed the opportunity into a trip to the Pro Bowl and a new contract worth $7.5 million for three years. According to Spotrac.com, it makes him the third-highest paid fullback in the league with a salary cap hit costing the Vikings $1.67 million in 2013.
Not bad for the fifth-round draft pick of the Lions in 2008 who has played for three teams in five seasons.
Both a Winner and a Loser: Punter Jeff Locke
With the release of eight-year veteran Chris Kluwe, Jeff Locke, the Minnesota Vikings' sixth-round draft pick, has no competition. He is the only punter on the roster. All he needs to do to claim his spot on the roster is to show up.
That makes him a winner.
The problem is there could be a lot of expectations for the rookie based on the performance of another special teams player drafted last season.
Blair Walsh set the NFL record last season making 10, 50-yard field goals. Not only did he beat the previous mark of eight in a season, but he was perfect from greater than 50 yards on the season. His accomplishment earned Walsh a trip to the Pro Bowl.
With general manager Rick Spielman using a draft pick on a position usually reserved for undrafted rookie free agents, the pressure will be on for the former UCLA Bruin to excel, just as Walsh did.
Perhaps he can set a record for average yards per punt in a season. Of course that means he will have to average greater than 51.4 yards per punt in order to surpass Sammy Baugh's record from 1940.
With some high expectations, it will be interesting how fans react when Locke shanks his first punt, or muffs the hold on a field goal—potentially ending Walsh's string of consecutive 50-yard field goals.
Loser: Cornerback Jacob Lacey
With the release of Antoine Winfield, the free-agent signing of four-year veteran Jacob Lacey immediately made him the Vikings' most experienced cornerback.
Lacey joined the Colts in 2009 as a rookie free agent and played three seasons with the Colts where he started 27 games. He spent last season with the Lions making another nine starts.
In total, his 36 starts are four more than the combined starts of Chris Cook and A.J. Jefferson.
Initially during the Vikings' OTAs, Lacey was lining up behind Josh Robinson as the slot corner. Until a dislocated thumb, requiring surgery, sidelined the four-year veteran.
While he should be ready for the start of minicamp, Lacey is missing valuable opportunities to impress the coaching staff, and earn a spot on the roster.
Winner: Cornerback Xavier Rodes
Could things get any better for Xavier Rhodes?
The Minnesota Vikings drafted the Florida State cornerback with the 25th pick in the draft, and then released their best cornerback from last season in Antoine Winfield.
Like safety Harrison Smith, who was selected last season in the first round, head coach Leslie Frazier will make it look like Rhodes has to earn his way to the top of the depth chart. Yet, it will be extremely difficult for anyone to prevent him from starting.
Loser: Defensive Tackle Kevin Williams
First off, let me state that Kevin Williams is a winner in my book.
As the consummate team player, he restructured his contract, reducing his salary from $7.5 million to $5 million. The agreement also voids the last year on his contract, making him a free agent at the following the season.
The Minnesota Vikings rewarded the six-time Pro Bowler by drafting his replacement in the first round, Sharrif Floyd.
After seeing the Vikings release veteran after veteran the past couple of years, Williams, who turns 33 in August, must know this will most likely be his last season with the team.
Winner: Wide Receiver Joe Webb
There's no doubt Joe Webb is an incredible athlete, the problem has been he is not an incredible quarterback. The Vikings' sixth-round draft pick in 2010, Webb has scored more touchdowns running (four) than passing (three).
By moving to a position that will take advantage of his speed and agility, it's a win-win situation. Webb gets to continue to cash an NFL paycheck, and the Vikings get another talented player on the field, instead of wasting away on the bench.
It was pretty obvious after last season, when head coach Leslie Frazier refused to replace Christian Ponder with Webb when his No. 1 quarterback was struggling. The picture became even more obvious with the addition of Matt Cassel.
At 6'4" Webb is the tallest among the players who have a shot at making the team. His main competition to make the team as the sixth wide receiver will come from Stephen Burton and undrafted free agents Chris Summers and Rodney Smith. Summers, 6'5", spent last season on the Bears practice squad, and Smith, 6'6", was signed from Florida State this season.
Loser: Wide Recevier Jarius Wright
Jarius Wright had to bide his time in order to even be activated for a game. It wasn't until Percy Harvin went down in Week 9 with an ankle injury that Wright got a chance.
In the final seven regular season games he finished second on the Vikings with 22 receptions, and he had the most receiving yards with 310 and caught two touchdowns. His 65-yard catch against the Lions was the longest on the season for the Vikings.
When the Vikings decided to part ways with the headaches of Harvin, things were looking up for Wright.
Then the Vikings signed Greg Jennings, re-signed Jerome Simpson and drafted Cordarrelle Patterson.
There's no doubt the Vikings can make use of Wright's talents, but if he is to make significant contributions in 2013, he will have to earn his way on to the field.
The Biggest Winner: Adrian Peterson
It would seem that there is nothing that can stop Adrian Peterson—certainly not injuries. He opened the 2012 season coming off reconstructive surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament and the medial collateral ligament of his left knee, and finished the season suffering from a sports hernia.
Peterson should be completely healed and a 100 percent healthy for the start of training camp. Last year he was held out of all contact drills during training camp, and did not have a single carry in the four preseason games. That didn't stop him from gaining 2,097, becoming only the sixth player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season.
Just imagine how many yards Peterson can gain starting the season healthy.
The Biggest Loser: Quarterback Christian Ponder
Christian Ponder had two things going for him last season—both Adrian Peterson and Joe Webb were behind him—Peterson on the field and Webb on the depth chart.
He had one of the easiest jobs in football. All he had to do was turn around and give the ball to Peterson. After the Vikings lost their leading receiver, Percy Harvin, to an ankle injury in Week 9, Peterson averaged 165 yards per game. He single handedly put the Vikings on his shoulders and carried the team to the playoffs.
During that stretch, Peterson had more yards on the ground than Ponder had through the air in three games. Despite Ponder's struggles, the fact that Webb was the backup seemed to keep Ponder on the field.
All that may change this season.
The Vikings signed eight-year veteran Matt Cassel to backup Ponder, and push Webb to wide receiver. Even though head coach Leslie Frazier insists there is no quarterback competition, it doesn't mean he will be as hesitant to remove Ponder if he struggles. All it may take is one, or two, relief appearances by Cassel to change Frazier's mind, or at least get the fans screaming for a change.